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What it’s like to watch a raging wildfire descend on your neighborhood

Reuters/Stephen Lam
“It isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. It’s not easy, it will affect a whole lot of lives.”
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

It was 11:30 at night on Sunday (Oct. 8) when Carol Dean first saw the flames flickering over a hill near her Santa Rosa home.

The out-of-control wildfires affecting Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Butte counties in northern California were now heading her way.

“It was real scary,” she told Quartz. “I could see that there was a fire line going horizontally. I just kept watching it and it wasn’t moving down.”

She spent most of the night on her deck watching the fire spread from the northeast. “I kept an eye on it all evening. With the wind gusting, tree branches breaking—stuff was flying around the yard. It looked like Kansas from Wizard of Oz,” she says.

Dean had previously lost a home to a wildfire that hit Oakland in 1991. Knowing what was at stake, she realized quickly that she couldn’t stay. At 4:30am, she packed three duffle bags with important papers and set out for a friend’s house with her 10-year-old cocker spaniel, Jackson, in tow.

“I’m of the opinion that you have got to just accept things for what they are,” she says. “I don’t need to carry a lot of stuff. If it is going to burn, it is going to burn.”

When Dean returned to her home yesterday, it was still standing—one of the lucky ones. The wildfires, fueled by a weather phenomenon known as “the Diablo winds,” have burned more than 1,500 homes and resulted in at least 15 deaths in the region so far.

Though she was grateful to see her home intact, Dean will have to check on her property again as the fire rages on. “It isn’t over yet, not by a long shot,” she says. “It’s not easy, it will affect a whole lot of lives.”

See more photos from the wildfires:

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Reuters/Stephen Lam
Reuters/Mike Blake
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Read this next: California wildfires are ripping through Napa Valley—home to a $50-billion wine industry

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